If Oprah were my school teacher, I would be terrified of her.
She seems like the kind of teacher who would first coax you, “Dont worry, you can tell me anything”. And then, screw your happiness after you have confessed to her.
Last week, Lance Armstrong confessed at the Holy Grail of Television – Oprah’s couch. Admitting that everything that was being spoken of him was in fact true, Armstrong went on to admit that he had lied, cheated, and bullied people to have his way.
I have never really followed the guy’s career, but I remember thinking of him as an asshole when I saw an interview a few years back. A journalist had questioned him about the allegations, and he had gone on to lambast the journo for no reason. Also, his Nike ads, titled “I’m on my bike. What are you on?” smacked of arrogance.
I never bought any of his armbands. Wearing a pink or yellow band never fascinated me, no matter what the significance was.
So I stood on the sidelines and watched the incident take place, not once feeling a thing – neither vindication, nor disappointment.
For you see, I had had my Armstrong moment long back.
Those of you who belong to the current generation would never have seen Mohammad Azharuddin bat.
It would be difficult to describe how the man batted.
You know how Sunil Gavaskar often says about good batsmen, that they make batting look very easy? Azhar, a tall, lanky middle order batsman, made batting seem like the toughest thing to do.
If you saw him take a ball outside off stump and steer towards the mid-on boundary with a flick of the wrist, you would wonder how on earth could someone do that? An art that Laxman later took to dizzying heights, Azhar was the ‘Yo! Maan’ of the team – the cool cucumber who smiled, pulled off the most bizzare slip catches, and drove balls like he could do it in his sleep.
It wasn’t the grace of Dravid, nor the brute force of a Gayle. In fact, it didn’t look graceful all the time. Sometimes, it looked like his footwork had gone all wrong, sometimes it looked like he had mistimed it. But you had to listen to the ‘clockkk‘ sound – that heavenly sound of leather striking willow, and you knew the ball would race into the boundary in no time.
He wasn’t an artist, or a magician. If anything, he was the evil Maths teacher who would conjure up difficult formulae in front of you. Just because he could. And as I sat in front of the screen, I wondered how on earth could someone do that. Batting must be complex, indeed.
My family never encouraged me to follow or play cricket. For them, anything that digressed from the path of salvation was unnecessary. Cricket (among novels, films, and comics) often came in my way of salvation, and was hence never encouraged.
I knew a stationary shop guy, who had a small black and white TV, with ‘Star Connection’. I sneaked into his shop to watch the first real match of my life. It was the summer of ’96, and India was playing Pakistan in Sharjah. India had a solid beginning and looked set to cross 300 for the first time in ODIs, when in walked Azharuddin, his white helmet and lazy swagger in tow.
The next few minutes were a flurry. Fours and sixers confounded the Pakistani bowlers, and Azhar scored 28 off 10 balls. From that day on, there were no two ways about it – Azhar was my favourite cricketer.
Cricket does strange things to us. It brings out the best in us, uniting a nation like glue. But at other times, it brings out the worst in us. A simple game turns us into brute, irrational beasts. It makes us strike below the belt, where it hurts the most.
My school taught me to love and respect all religions. I never really understood the magnitude of the statement, but believed it anyway. When I would watch matches at home, disgruntled viewers would repeatedly say things like, “Saala Musalmaan hai. Apna wicket deke aayega”, or “Pathaan hai, what do you expect on a Friday?”.
Those statements infuriated me. But since I wasn’t watching the matches at my home, I simply shut up, praying that he performs. And when he would perform, I was elated. I felt a vindication, a personal victory for me, and my beliefs.
Of course, it wasn’t only romantic reasons I had for being his fan. Azhar was the captain of the Indian cricket team, and held all the major records in ODI cricket – most matches, most runs, most catches, (and the dubious distinction of) most run outs too.
Which meant that if you were playing Cricket Cards and got Azhar’s card, you were guaranteed a win. When people asked me who my favourite cricket was, “Azhar”, I blurted out, without thinking.
The year 2000 was full of stories of the Y2K bug. This ominous bug that would wipe out all the computers of the world when the new millennium began. None of that actually happened, of course, but the year remained one of the most heartbreaking years of my life.
The match fixing scandal broke out, and Azhar was named among the guilty. I never believed it at first, but the evidence was mounting, and Azhar was among the accused.
Of course, I gave a rat’s ass about the other cricketers named – Jadeja, Prabhakar, Mongia, and Kapil.
I never watched Kapil play so I had no real connection with him. I hated Mongia ever since I had read an interview where he said, “But I hate to dive for wides.” Jadeja was a bits and pieces cricketer, who scored more in ads and films than on an actual cricket field. And Prabhakar!
He was the country’s leading fast bowler in the Wills World Cup, and started bowling Off Spin when Jayasurya took after him. I never really cared about those guys. But Azhar!
The one guy who I rooted for. The guy who had become symbolic of my beliefs, of the secularism I prided my country on having. The pure joy of batting. It all came crumbling down.
My family was quick to pounce on the situation. They went on for hours about how they always knew that these cricketers played for money. Sportstar and Cricket Talk were banned from the house, and the television was packed up.
My tryst with Azhar had ended.
I would move on to Sachin Tendulkar. A more wholesome, author-backed hero. Flawless, humble, and prolific, Sachin would then go on to accumulate runs like a mad man – the most runs ever scored in the history of cricket. It has been a memorable journey. But I miss being an Azhar fan. The unpredictability, and the vindication.
It wasn’t the same. Ever again.
So as I watched Lance Armstrong sit on the couch and talk to Oprah about how he cheated, and how he lied, I wasn’t moved at all.
I heard him apologise to cancer patients and his sponsors.
But his biggest apology should go to the little kid. The one who stays awake at night, puts up a poster in his room, and pastes newspaper cut-outs in a scrap book.
It’s that little kid you need to apologise to.
You broke his heart, you smug asshole, and he is going to be shattered for a long time.